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Film Room: New Colts’ defensive tackle DeForest Buckner is a superstar

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The Colts acquire one of the best young defenders in football.

Kansas City Chiefs stage furious rally win Super Bowl title David Santiago/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The Indianapolis Colts have made the splashiest move in Chris Ballard’s tenure as GM of the team. On the opening day of free agency, the Colts sent their first round pick in 2020 (13th overall) to the 49ers for All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. Buckner is coming off a two year stretch where he totaled 20 sacks and coming off a playoff run where he had 2.5 sacks in 3 games.

In today’s film room, we will be looking at the superstar that is DeForest Buckner. While being an athletic specimen, he also possesses elite effort that allows him to make plays all over the football field.


Background:

Size:

6’7” 300 pounds

Combine Numbers:

Career NFL Stats:

263 total tackles, 38 tackles for a loss, 28.5 sacks, 74 QB hits, 11 pass deflections, and 3 forced fumbles in 4 NFL seasons.


Athleticism

The first thing that pops on film when you watch Buckner is his elite athleticism. He has insane burst off the snap which he uses to get into the backfield before the opposing linemen even have a chance. He also has great lateral ability which he uses to strafe down the line of scrimmage after he sheds blocks. His long speed on the surface may not look great but for a player with his height and weight, he is able to make some insane plays in the open field.

Here he is able to rip through the line with his excellent burst. He beats the double team to the spot and then, while still engaged, is able to get his long arms up and deflect the pass on the play.

Burst is yet again on display as he is able to split the double team right off the snap. He is then able to re-angle his body and beat the running back to the hole for the tackle for a loss. This is rare movement skill for any player over 300 pounds, let alone a player with his height.

His change of direction ability is insane. Here he strafes down the line and gets himself in great position to make a play in the hole. When the running back then cuts back to the outside, Buckner is able to plant his foot, shed the block, and then track down the ball carrier for a short gain. With Buckner, even when the ball isn’t going his way, he is a threat to make a play.

Another simply insane play. Here he is lined up as the 3-technique away from the play side. He is able to quickly cross the face of new 30 million dollar guard Ereck Flowers and get instant penetration into the backfield. From there, he beats the running back to the hole and makes the tackle for a loss. Even as a backside defender he is able to make plays.

Final clip shows off just how crazy of an athlete he is. Kyler Murray is one of the faster quarterbacks in the NFL and Buckner is able to flow to the sideline and track him down with ease. How many defensive tackles could make this play? Maybe just Aaron Donald and DeForest Buckner. This is elite level athleticism at the defensive tackle position and something the Colts have desperately needed on their interior.


Power

A player with Buckner’s size should possess a ton of power at the point of attack. Luckily, he does. He is near unblockable one on one when rushing the passer as he drives helpless offensive guards into their quarterbacks’ laps. He also a force against double teams as he has enough leg strength to withstand those initial blocks and enough upper body strength to rip through those blocks.

This play is an incredible blend of both upper and lower body strength. He is able to hold off the initial push with great leg strength as he flexes his ankle and holds at the point of attack. He then effortlessly tosses All-Pro guard David DeCastro to the ground and makes the tackle for a loss.

He simply walks guards back into the quarterback’s lap with so much ease. Here he runs veteran guard Ramon Foster into the lap of Mason Rudolph who is forced to bail from the pocket and throw a bad interception. This type of quick interior pressure is so vital in the NFL nowadays.

He just makes it look so easy. His power and burst off the line of scrimmage just give him such an advantage from the get-go. This type of quick rush is important because it flusters quarterbacks and allows for teammates, like Nick Bosa on this play, to clean up from behind for relatively easy sacks.

His power shows up in the run game as well. Here he is being grabbed and shoved throughout the entire play but he is able to stay balanced and shed the block numerous times. He is able to finish the play by fighting through contact across his body to make a tackle in the run game.

This play is just hilarious yet great. He gets a good initial push on the right tackle then just shoves him aside in pursuit of the sack. Just from the initial impression, adding a player with Buckner’s athleticism and power is a much needed addition to the defensive line.


Hand Usage/Pass Rush Moves

Now we have established that Buckner has great athleticism and power but how developed as a pass rusher is he? Well, he’s pretty nuanced and complete. He has a ton of moves in his arsenal from the cross chop, swim move, rip, and two hand swipe. Add those great moves with the power and athleticism and you have a top tier defensive tackle.

The cross chop move is one often used by elite defensive ends as it is a move that requires a certain degree of athleticism and timing. Buckner however makes it look easy here as he uses it to perfection to get the sack against Kyler Murray.

The left guard even jumps early on this play but Buckner is able to beat him with a two hand swipe and swim over the top for the pressure. Side note: this throw by Kyler Murray is elite.

Sometimes the initial move doesn’t quite work out. Buckner is great at resetting after his initial move and then winning the hand fighting match to still get pressure on the quarterback. These types of rusher aren’t as pretty but they get the job done. (Also, please excuse the circle not disappearing, it’s been a long day of cutting up film).

How about a push-pull against future Hall of Famer Marshall Yanda? Yeah, Buckner can kind of do it all. He has the power, athleticism, and the development to be a top tier defensive tackle in the NFL. The Colts are adding an elite interior presence to their defense.


Effort

The final piece to the puzzle that makes Buckner, in my opinion, the second best defensive tackle in the NFL is his effort. He has all the traits you look for but his motor is what really separates him. He rarely gives up on plays and will hustle all over the field for his team. This type of effort is rare and when you combine it with his special traits, you get an insane talent.

Here he gets chipped by the running back and has his first move locked down by the guard but that is no problem for Buckner. He is able to reestablish himself and chase down Andy Dalton for the sack.

Here he rushes up field before turning around and chasing down the screen play. His screen recognition skills and effort in chasing them down is all over his film. He never gives up on these plays even when he is out of position.

He won’t give up when quarterbacks move away from him in the pocket either. His motor always runs hot as he pursues the QB until they are on the ground. Here he strafes down the line and is able to make the tackle before the QB can escape for the first down.

A backside 4-technique defensive tackle has no business making this type of play. This just showcases how elite he already is. Now get this player with his elite traits and energy into a scheme like the Colts where they allow him to gap shoot and use his gifts is a recipe for success.


Final Thoughts

I understand the concerns with this type of trade and contract. Trading the 13th overall pick is a bit risky and paying over 20 million dollars a year for a defensive tackle is a bit unprecedented. While those are rational concerns, the simple fact of the matter is the Colts are getting an elite player.

When you draft at 13, the hope is to get a player like Buckner. When you shell out 20 million dollars on a player or multiple players, you hope they have the impact that Buckner has. There is some risk for sure but in my humble opinion, you take those risks to acquire elite level talent.

The Colts made a big move for one of the top defensive players in football today. That should be a move that is celebrated. The Colts’ pass rush and overall defense should be so much better heading into next year. It is going to be so much fun watching another All-Pro defender roam on this defense.